Now that the college admissions process has shifted to a long wait until offers are announced, the next step is figuring out cost of attendance. Universities use a mix of internal policy, FAFSA , and CSS profile to determine both the type and amount of aid students receive.
Many people underestimate their eligibility even though the average federal aid award is almost $15,000. Almost all colleges require FAFSA but only some schools ask for both. If you aren't sure whether you should fill in either, you should at least fill in the FAFSA. Even if you don't end up qualifying for financial aid, you'll need to fill it in, in order to qualify for merit-based scholarships.
Do I qualify for Financial Aid?
The table below provides rough estimates based aggregated gross income (AGI), total household income minus specific tax deductions.
Table Source: Forbes
The U.S Department of Education oversees FAFSA to determine federal assistance for college-bound students. Virtually all schools require it for aid consideration. You can list up to 10 schools but more can be added.
FAFSA is not an entity that disburses aid but instead determines financial aid eligibility. After entering data, mostly from tax records, you will receive an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number, a data metric that colleges then use in tandem with state aid and institutional funds to create an award package for accepted students.
First you’ll need to obtain a Federal Student Aid ID to enter the portal. You can fill out FAFSA between January 1st and June 30th but keep in mind institutional deadlines. FAFSA should be filed earlier rather than later since federal funding availability is on a first-come first-served basis.
To fill it out you’ll need your most recent tax forms (1040 and W-2), mortgage financial documents, personal investment data (104k, etc.), and a bank statement. On average FAFSA takes 55 minutes to complete.
The CSS profile is administered by the College Board, to provide private institutions a more detailed view of family finances. Some colleges require it but not all. Unlike FAFSA, the CSS Profile costs $25 for submission to the first institution and $16 for each subsequent request. It focuses more on the state of personal finances and consideration of personal circumstances, so you’ll need tax records, mortgage (amount of home and current value), and investment records.
It’s typically due November 15th for early decision college admissions and on February 1st for regular decision, but cross-check institutional deadlines. If it’s your first time filing, plan to spend a similar amount of time as FAFSA.
Specific award amounts vary by school: Ivy League (avg. aid ~ $48,000), University of California system (avg. aid $17,000).
To get an estimate for a specific school, use the Net Price Calculator from the College Board.
In 2017, our students received on average around $6,700 in scholarships. We can help you apply for scholarships and financial aid. Schedule a free consultation with us!